Saturday, June 10, 2017

By Daniel de la Calle


    Islands make for miniature universes, like snow globes: they transform a few miles distance into the crossing of a continent, produce insular dwarfism (where even the animals try to scale down and look only into the restricted cosmos) and remarkable adaptation from its species.  I know what it is like, I was born an islander and have spent long periods of time on them.  For this reason alone a festival like Sea Flower Film Fest on speck-sized and bucolic San Andrés is of particular importance.  While during this visit its residents seemed mainly focused on self determination and/or independence from mainland Colombia, while they were trying to discern who is a "true local" from the mere "newcomers" of a generation or two in the highly populated archipelago, both the festival organizers and filmmakers taking part in the four day event expressed a more ample view of the world we currently live in: a place of interconnectedness, with no more safe harbors.  A confrontation now, in the XXI Century about entitlement and territory is absurdly futile, more dangerous than ever. 

Personally, I only want to hear about unity and the adoption of global policies, want to worry about the planet as a whole and have very little patience for the waving of flags and the singing of national anthems.  San Andresians need to hear that no quantity of water between us and the mainland makes us different, grants us sanctuary any more.

Local kids bond and bring lunch home in Taganga, Colombia.

Our own screening at the festival went really well.  We had an enthusiastic exchange of questions and answers that spilled out into the hallways of Hotel Sunrise, the festival venue.  It felt good to talk on a coralline island about the overwhelming threat of Ocean Acidification, its people must be even more touched by the magnitude of the changes we are about to encounter, since they will be able to witness them from their kitchen windows and corals are of such importance to them, even to their economy.  And while there is an element of sadness intrinsic to it all, talking about bad things is clearly very comforting as well; to me it always feels like the first step in the right direction, that of information as a prelude to action.

So to continue informing, the following morning, before leaving for Bogotá we did an impromptu screening with undergraduate students at the island's Universidad Nacional de Colombia.  Some of the faculty staff are doing research on Ocean Acidification and I was asked questions about making films as well as about the oceans.  I tried to stress the message to these students that as much as we need good scientists to dig the data we are in desperate need of intelligent, charismatic and motivated young people willing to talk about it to the population, the media and the decision makers.

The Universidad Nacional de Colombia in San Andrés, an example of architectural insular dwarfism.  What a dream to study at a place like this, ten meters away from the water.

Link to an article on the festival and A Sea Change on the local press:

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Belated Post About a Belated Award
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

Two weeks ago our director Barbara Ettinger was informed that A Sea Change won last year's Best Environmental Documentary Award at the Ventura Film Festival in California! 
Talk of a job taken seriously, twelve months for the jury to choose us;  the value of this acknowledgement must at least be triple.  Jokes aside, both Barbara and Sven (who have become brave Baltic viking sailors for part of the summer) continue to be overjoyed by the number of festival participations and recognitions since 2009.
The award will be officially presented at this year's Ventura Film Festival ceremony on July 9th, at the Majestic Ventura Theater.

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That Elusive Golden Past
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

The screening at Maloka and the countless interviews in Bogotá couldn't have gone any better.  Some sort of miracle, some magic must have turned my pumpkin backpack into the Ocean Acidification ambassador's golden chariot (caught up in the worst traffic jams ever, though!) and I was welcomed like royalty, asked for hours by journalists, interviewed on radio shows, by inquisitive citizens and environmentalists about the film and the state of our oceans. 
What the city of Bogotá lacks in charms and warmth the people certainly make up with contagious enthusiasm, cordiality, pure interest and politeness.  Colombians, Bogotanos at least, strike me as hard working, serious, punctual and unnecessarily apologetic people.  They feel an urge to talk about the dreadful 80s and 90s, about the violence those days, the killings, the bombings and the plague of corruption that rotted their natural desire for peace and progress.  It is as if they felt that it was their personal fault that the rest of the world looks their way with disdain and fear, as if each one of them is individually responsible for how they have been stigmatized.  I think few places need more desperately a worldwide PR campaign than Colombia.  Bogotanos are certainly the first to warn you of the many dangers, the first to list the places you cannot wander around at night and the ones you never step into, but everyone also agrees that things are not the way they used to, that they have improved.  On my way to the airport yesterday morning my loyal cab driver Ángel, the man I spent so many hours with, explained in his subdued voice: "The problem in the 80s and 90s was that the cocaine producers were also involved in all the distribution abroad.  The business was in the hands of a couple drug lords that had too much power and felt invincible, stopped at nothing; they fought each other, fought the government, fought the people.  Over these past 15 years things have changed. There are many small producers now, and after all the brutal violence and hunt down they have decided it is ok to have less power but also enjoy quieter life. They do not want that incessant war within Colombia, so they passed the distribution business to Mexico.  And look how things are there now, like here 25 years ago.  Well, almost."

The way things looked during most of my time in Bogotá, wih Ángel.

Thanks to the FESTIVER staff, Colombia's first environmental film festival that A Sea Change will be a part of in the early fall, I toured all the major newspapers and news agencies and did numerous phone interviews for radio shows.  I am not very good with this sort of work, bore myself way too easily if I say the same things and crack the same jokes, so I end up changing my lines and "routine" at every screening, on live interviews, with that young journalist obsessed with Alaska.  Unfortunately, the message does not always come as clear or interesting as as tested, rehearsed and memorized version and this pursue of the new leaves me exhausted.  But I do not want to sound negative, we could have never dreamed of a coverage as exhaustive as this, that people would show such interest and show for screenings they way the have.
The Thursday event organized by Instituto Humboldt  at MALOKA

Their invitation to the screening

was in the early evening.  Half an hour before the start I walked up the steps to the square and faced a line of people that encircled its iconic dome.  They were all there to watch A Sea Change!  The room filled up, every sit was taken and we still had to turn 30 people down.  The audience was mostly made of young Bogotanos, men and women that had never heard about Ocean Acidification but were passionate about the sea and ecology, with a few scientists and a dozen members of environmental organizations to pepper the sancocho (traditional Colombian stew).  Although Bogotá is hundreds of miles away from the sea Colombia is after all the only South American country with both Pacific and Caribbean coasts and vast coral reefs.

One of the few things leisurely things I squeezed into this Ocean Acidification filled agenda was a brief visit to the Museo del Oro. Colombia's finest museum is solely dedicated to gold, to its geological origin and history with human kind, to its extraction and the different techniques the first goldsmiths applied and its use as adornment with symbolic power by pre-Columbian civilizations.  Although I have never shown much interest in shiny metals it was a blinding and intriguing experience (where does our passion for metals and gems come from?), one that spoke of a past eons away from complex contemporary Colombia.

A winged gold fish at the Museo del Oro

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Congrats Toby!!!
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Toby Shimin's last film, BUCK, has just been given the Sundance Audience Award for Best Documentary.  Toby was the editor of A Sea Change and all of Barbara Ettinger's previous films.  Congratulations, Toby!

Buck is directed by Cindy Meehl, here's a link to Sundance's announcement.
And a link to an article about the film
Go Toby!!! 
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Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

I am in Paris now, just for a couple weeks, and my visit has coincided with a fantastic documentary film festival called Pariscience.  From medicine to biology, botany to meteorology, computer or space science, the selection encompasses an impressively broad range of fields of study and research.  For example, yesterday I attended the screening of "How Heavy Is A Cloud?", where I was surrounded by a couple hundred giggly schoolchildren and their shepherding teachers.  The q&a, what I understood of it anyway, was absolutely endearing and revolved again and again and again around the unfathomable question: "if a cloud is so heavy, how can it be suspended in the air?" I felt the same way, hard to wrap my head around that one.
The day before I went to four or five screenings.  One was about the always disturbing subject of plastic in the oceans.  Here is an interesting figure that I noted down: France alone exports over 700,000 tons of recyclable plastics every year.  From an ecological, from a moral standpoint this is simply unacceptable; the exports of trash and recyclables should be banned worldwide. Each country should deal with their own waste and have proper processing plants, instead of shipping it across the world to third world facilities. That is just out of sight, out of mind.
Another good documentary was a Franco-Canadian production on The Mystery of the Disappearance of Bees that has farmers and scientists in the U.S. (and little by little worldwide) so worried and puzzled. Of course it talked at length about the vital role bees play in modern day monocultural farming and plant pollination in general, and about the codependency amongst plants, insects and animals in nature. In fact, the term "coevolution" floated around several of the selected films. Most times I find it to be kind of redundant, since evolution is either due to coevolution or adaptation to the present environment. A film titled Amazing Plants showed some unbelievable and eye catching examples of coevolution, like the acacia ant and the swollen thorn acacia. Check out these great macro shots.
Finally, in this portrait of the planet as a perfect and ever-changing puzzle of correlation, cause and effect and intertwined dependence for survival, another documentary on meteorology outlined how satellite observation and counting of lightning strikes has brought to light that hurricanes hitting the Caribbean come two weeks after strong electric storms in certain parts of Africa, opening the door to forecasting these destructive natural catastrophes. One of the stories I like repeating the most to my friends (I hope I have not mentioned it here yet) is how the Sahara desert storms are fertilized by over 40 million tons of sand from the Amazon jungle every year. Science can be so poetic.

In case I left you curious and wondering, the weight of the water in a smallish cumulus is a bit less than 600 tons.  If I did not understand it wrong (pardon my French), the water content in a cloud only adds up to 1% of its total weight.  Finally, next time you see a storm coming (there are around 2,000 rain storms taking place at any given moment on planet Earth), keep in mind that a large cumulonimbus can hold up to 1 billion tons of water.
Cloudy September sunset from my terrace.

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We Need Your Help!
Saturday, June 10, 2017
We've just received word from Netflix that A Sea Change is officially a 'saved' film in their terminology. This means that they're waiting to see how many people put it in their queue before they decide if they'll carry it. With over 50 film festivals worldwide, a national broadcast on Planet Green and hundreds of community screenings we're curious what it takes to get accepted outright. But Netflix has a big audience and we want more people to see the film and learn about ocean acidification, so we see this as a challenge to our network of  If you have a Netflix account or know someone who does, please take a minute to put us in your queue and to ask your friends to do the same thing. It's free, it's easy and it will make a difference. Here's our link

Speaking of documentary film festivals, Barbara and Sven just returned (briefly) home after attending the screening of their film at the Chesapeake Film Festival, while here at the virtual office we were informed that the film had been selected for the Festival du Film de L'environnement in Kairouan, Tunisia, in early December. How nice is that?
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Back to Brazil, back to FICA
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

I really wanted to visit some of the cerrado National Parks during the screening tour in Brazil in March and April, but it was not possible.  The dates did not leave a window of time big enough to "escape" to the countryside between each city.   I thought it would be a long time before I had another chance to fly to South America and fulfill this desire, but I was so wrong.  Not even a week after my return to the US the production company received an invitation to take part in FICA again, the film festival that A Sea Change won last year, this time as part of a series of films to be screened for school children from the State of Goias.  I wrote to the organizers and suggested we did a little more than just show the film; I wanted to go down there and meet them, talk to them about ocean acidification and do a simple chemistry experiment to exemplify what an acidic ocean does to shell forming organisms.  They liked the idea and so it was that, barely a month after leaving Río, that I was heading South again on an early June night.

My expectations were very high, but even so the cerrado did not disappoint me at all. It is wild, it is pure, it is extremely beautiful, bizarre and surprising. Animals, birds and plants seem to have come out of a Dr. Seuss book.  The giant anteater with its long hairs, nose and tongue, the toucans and parrots, the palms, sticky plants, fragrant leaves, thorny bushes. Everything was new and unique to me.  And for good reason, forty some percent of all I saw was endemic;  this ecosystem is so important that, in a country like Brazil that holds the Amazon jungle, the cerrado still counts for over thirty percent of all the biodiversity in the nation.  The big threat to these gorgeous savannas and bushy areas are the dry season fires and the clearings done for soy and cattle farming.  Fires are strictly forbidden, but one would think that they are actually encouraged. Everywhere I went people were burning grass and low bush by the side of the road, in farms, in the forests.  This practice could not be more dangerous.  The dry season lasts half of the year and usually, once a fire gets out of control during these months there is absolutely no way people will manage to stop it. Some plants have adapted to fires and have the most ingenious ways of "escaping" or surviving fires, but many others and all animals caught in it perish and take an awful long time to repopulate the area because conditions in the cerrado are extreme and hard (six months of rain, six months of "seca", the dry season).  I came to realize that legislation is not going to do much to discourage "winter" burnings, that the only way to dissuade Brazilians from eradicating the mato is to educate them, to teach them to love this magnificent environment that they take for granted and to teach them about the consequences of fires. The cerrado, as I have already mentioned on previous posts in this blog, is the most threatened environment in all Brazil, way above the Amazonia.

Education has always looked to me like the only true key to hope and change in all matters, including the way we treat the planet, so I was elated to have the opportunity to show the film to 500 kids and talk to them for a couple minutes. There were children and teenagers of all ages, from 5 to 17. They were loud, they were having fun, they were nervous. The room was huge, it is the same one used for the Festival's closing ceremony, but in less than five minutes it filled up. They were making so much noise during the opening scene that you could not hear a thing. How loud were they? About this LOUD

Unfortunately, some of them had to leave before it was over because they had come by bus from distant towns and villages and had to begin their way back, but a good number of them stayed until the end.  I had promised to ask a few simple questions about the film and reward those that knew the answers with some of our merchandise, so the kids (and quite many adults) were pretty excited.  I also asked the younger children to please make a drawing with whatever part of the documentary or animal shown in it that they liked and we quickly assembled an informal jury to reward the best five or six with a Niijii Films baseball cap as well.  I wished I had brought 100 and not just a handful, it was heartbreaking to see some of those disappointed eyes. The most difficult question I asked seemed to be to name in an understandable way the little shell with wings that appears several times throughout the film.  The word "pteropod" is not the easiest one to pronounce for a 12 year old Brazilian kid; some pretty comical and unintelligible replies, formed mostly by the urge to own a baseball cap, came out of those mouths.  Finally, I told them all to come close to the stage and hold two cups in their hands, one filled with water and one filled with vinegar. Then we gave each one of them several pieces of chalk while I explained that they should imagine the acidic ocean being the cup of vinegar and the shell forming organism being the pieces of chalk. There was some initial confusion because the chalk was bubbling in the water as well as in the vinegar, but once the air inside it had come out they could see the vinegar getting all murky and the chalk stick slowly dissolving. I knew all this was quite a stretch for a little girl that has never seen the ocean or eaten shellfish and is at the beginning of her school years, but I think they got the essence of the message and both students and teachers were absolutely fascinated by the chemistry behind the terrible problem of ocean acidification. I believe and hope the experiment is going to be replicated in classrooms during the next few months.

Here are a few of the drawings I took with me, all of them winners of the Niijii Films cap that is now often seen around the State of Goias:

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Winner in Calabria
Saturday, June 10, 2017
We just received news that on June 27th A Sea Change won the competition for Best Video at the Gaia International Festival in Calabria, Italy. The film was screened in the beautiful Aieta Renaissance Palace:

Michael Leonardi, the Festival Organizer, wrote Barbara Ettinger to tell her the wonderful news and complement the film: "With all of the terrible news about our seas and oceans it is good to know that there are people like you out there looking to leave something behind to our children and grandchildren. I am the father of an almost two year old named Gaia Valmaree Leonardi who inspired this festival."

We are so proud and full of joy that the film continues to travel around the globe, taking part in film festivals, winning awards and informing people about the increasingly more known problem of ocean acidification.
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Sao Paulo de Janeiro
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

It is 60 degrees, cloudy and windy at times and I am listening to the National's new record surrounded by maple, oak and pine tress in my office.  No more Tim Maia, Marisa Monte, funky carioca or forró.  No more Os Mutantes.  I will need to close my eyes really tight to remember what it was and felt like 5,000 miles further South, over in Brazil.  Right now Barbara and Sven are on the West Coast receiving their Environmental Hero Award from NOAA and visiting Elias and his family while back here in NY we received this past week news of three broadcasts on Norwegian national television, NRK (which made Sven particularly happy), and of the screening at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.  The Vancouver Observer did a nice little piece about it that you can read here.

The penultimate screening was at the Cineclube Socioambiental Crisantempo in Vila Madalena.  Vila Madalena fools you into thinking that the gigantic city that envelops it does not exist.  It is a beautiful neighborhood with posh restaurants, bars with terraces, boutiques, artists' studios, bakeries.  If you are rich in Sao Paulo, you want to hang out around Vila Madalena and forget about the traffic jams, the hectic Avenida Paulista, the putrid Pinheiros River, the more than 20 million people around. Crisantempo offers a fantastic space in which to host film, theatre, dance and music performances.  It is all very well organized and cared for, all extremely professional.  Everybody talks about the city being the engine of South America, more cosmopolitan, faster paced and wealthier than anywhere else in the continent and I guess it is true.  For me it was a relief to have the last screenings being a little less stressful and unpredictable.  In preparation for our night the organizers had contacted Leandra Gonçalves from Greenpeace Brasil to be present during the Q&A.  That gave me the opportunity to not have to listen so much to myself again and learn some very interesting things about the attempts (or lack thereof) in Brazil to preserve coastal waters and marine ecosystems.  Although I had already noticed how much meat is eaten everywhere, I was surprised to know that the average consumption per capita of fish in Brazil barely reaches 8 kilograms (it is 58 kilograms over in Spain, but we might only be beat by Japan in our dependency and love for fish).  It is a bit of a paradox that a country so associated with sandy beaches and coconut groves, surfing, water and nature can literally have its back turned in another direction if we just look at their national policies and their diet.  Ms Gonçalves was very keen to talk about whales (a symbol for Greenpeace), so took the opportunity to tell the audience that one of the possible future lines of research in regards to ocean acidification and marine life could be  the impact a more acidic ocean will have on animals that communicate through sound underwater.  One of the lesser known facts about acidification is that a decrease of 0.3 in the PH equals a 40% decrease in the sound absorption coefficient.  Yes, there could be acoustic contamination in the oceans as well.

100 different types of fruit at the Municipal Market in Sao Paulo.

In a city like Sao Paulo some of the favelas are vertical. Outside the Municipal Market.

Then it was time to go back to Río, catch a few more waves on Ipanema beach, watch the city at sunset from Sugar Loaf, buy a kilo of powdered guaraná and go to the final screening, at the Solar da Imperatriz in the Jardim Botanico;  no less!

 The place was also known as Facenda dos Macacos, after the river that passes through it, but either macaques really liked the name or I want to believe their profusion had something to do with it as well.  They run up and down electric wires, roll on roofs, feed along the fences, curious and nervous, mothers carrying several offspring on the backs. With those curled up tails, hanging at different heights, they looked like musical notes on a score to the Mata Atlântica.

The somewhat long drive up to this lush location in the outskirts of Rio did not prevent the screening form going really well.  Cecilia Herzog from Inverde and her husband Alex (Amigos do Parque) were in charge of the whole thing and through their hard work, devotion and energy made sure that it all run smoothly, in a brilliant manner.  The most positive thing about this trip has certainly been meeting people like them and like Fabiana Duarte de Paula, Eudaldo Guimaraes, Ana Arruda, Suzana Sattamini, Pedro Cavalcanti, Natalia Ribeiro, Andrea Palatnik, Luciano Mariz, Gina Boemer or so many other amazing folks that I am surely forgetting now and have shown to me such conviction and hope in change, such great generosity and will to help, sharing their energy and intelligence for this project.  They have restored my at times damaged faith in human kind.

This time at the end we had a panel discussion with journalist Amélia Gonzales from O Globo and oceanographer David Zee from the University Veiga de Almeida and the collaboration from members of the audience, like Trajano Paiva, who runs a website devoted to the oceans called
What a great aftertaste to six fantastic weeks in Brazil.  And now for something completely different.

This post is dedicated to my good friend Miguel Gil, who helped me throughout the whole trip, shared the laughter, joys and miseries that come from traveling and just yesterday experienced the tragedy of his half of the cupuaçu cracking in the dry Granada air.  We will go and get some more, Miguel.

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Doc in Río
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Daniel de la Calle

Dear blog readers,

During the next forty some days I will be in Brazil, screening the film around cities and representing the A Sea Change crew at an environmental film festival called FASAI, in the state of Bahía.

I will do my best to deliver updates of how things go in this wonderful South American country. Somehow I get the feeling I will be writing more than just about ocean acidification.

First stop (March 17th-22nd): Rio de Janeiro, a city with many layers

and in which streets you will find more than pigeons.

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